Less than 20 minutes away from Calgary’s city limits, the town of Cochrane has managed to maintain its strong sense of western history and culture while growing into one of the most modern and bustling towns in the province.
According to building stats from December 2011, the town’s current population sits at 18,646 — quite the jump considering the town was home to a mere 900 people as of 1969.
“It continues to surprise me that (Cochrane’s) growing into more of an eclectic community than it maybe ever was,” said Kimberly Gunn, owner/operator of Red Shed Graphic Design and designer behind the Alternate Routes tourist guide, which focuses on the town. “Just the appeal of the community, it’s an interesting mix.”
The town holds a lot of appeal for families, with several schools, lot’s of walking paths, the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre and the prospect of a new swimming complex and Cochrane Community Arts Centre beginning to come to fruition.
Surrounding roadways and local pathways (both in good weather and not-so good weather) are spotted with runners and cyclists as Cochranites and visitors from all around maintain a very active lifestyle.
Gunn spoke to some of the extracurricular activities that make Cochrane a great place to both live and visit. “The Cochrane Folk Club brings in phenomenal acts from around the world,” she said adding the Chinook Film Club brings in visitors from Calgary, as does the annual Robbie Burns Night.
“One of the real gems lately has been the Glenbow Ranch,” Gunn said.
At just under five minutes away from Cochrane, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park opened in August 2011. The park, part of which remains a working ranch, is fast becoming a destination for hikers and sightseers to spend the day enjoying the landscape before eating in one of Cochrane’s many restaurants afterwards.
As of the 2009 census, Cochrane had 4,025 single-detached homes, 648 duplex/ semi-detached homes, 408 townhouses and 334 apartments. Of those properties, 4,412 are owned and 597 rented.
For the people that have lived there the longest — as the town continues to grow — Cochrane has always retained some of its small town sense of community.
“I think for a lot of people that still live here . . . that’s why we moved back,” said Jodi Collins who grew up in Cochrane, moved away for a few years in her 20s and returned. “This was where we knew we wanted to raise our kids and spend the rest of our lives.”
Leasing 109,000 acres west of Calgary thanks to a federal Conservative government large-scale leasing policy, Senator Matthew Cochrane established the Cochrane Ranche in 1881. Due to hard Alberta winters and poor herding practices, the ranche’s cattle were relocated south to a new lease on the Belly River and sheep and horses were raised instead. That venture failed as well and the property was broken up and sold in 1888. Today, the ranche serves as a park, used year-round by residents for picnics, hiking and other events and is home to the Men of Vision. Overlooking the town, the statue, created by Malcolm James McKenzie and placed in it’s current location in 1979, was commissioned by Alberta Culture in honour of the working cowboy.
Mackay’s Ice Cream
If you’ve heard of Cochrane, then you’ve more than likely heard about MacKay’s Ice Cream. For over 60 years the MacKay’s have been whipping up icy, sweet treats that have been sampled by locals and tourists from around the world. In 1948, Cochrane General Store owners James and Christina Mackay decided to expand their business by attracting day-trippers from Calgary by making ice cream in the back of the store and a local legend was born. Since then the company has added a manufacturing plant, also in Cochrane and the business has been taken over by James and Christina’s daughters Rhona and Robyn. The famous ice cream is available all over Alberta including Ban , Edmonton and Lake Louise.
Spray Lakes Recreation Centre
Operated by the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Parks Society, the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre (SLSFSC) opened in 2001. The centre features three arenas which are well utilized by hockey and ringette teams — including the Heritage Junior Hockey League Cochrane Generals — an indoor turf field, gymnasium, indoor track, meeting rooms and café. As well as various sporting events and tournaments, the SLSFSC has a wide variety of drop-in and registered programs.
Ghost Lake Dam
Utilized in all seasons, the Ghost Lake Reservoir was created in 1929 with the construction of the Ghost Lake Dam. Nearby campgrounds, a recreation area on the lake’s north shore and the short 25 minute drive from Cochrane make the area a frequent stop for fishing (Lake Trout, Mountain Whitefi sh), sailing, ice boating, ice fi shing, swimming and other water sports. The lake served as the body of water for the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in 2011, with another event scheduled for 2012.